Medicinal cannabis products can now be legally prescribed to some patients across the UK for the very first time - although only by specialist doctors in a limited number of circumstances, when other medical solutions have failed.
The decision, effective November 1, to the rules on treatments follows widespread public outcry over two boys — Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell — with severe epilepsy being denied access to cannabis oil.
The cases prompted a review of medicinal cannabis, launched in June by Home Secretary Sajid Javid — it concluded there was substantial evidence medicinal cannabis had therapeutic benefits, and doctors should be able to prescribe such products. The decision was officially mandated in July.
New NHS guidance for doctors in England says cannabis can be prescribed when there is clear published evidence of its benefit and other treatment options have been exhausted. GPs remain precluded from prescribing cannabis-based products, however.
A shopper examines a cannabis display , in San Francisco during California's first day of recreational marijuana sales on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018.
The treatments can be prescribed in cases of children with rare, severe forms of epilepsy, adults with vomiting or nausea caused by chemotherap, or muscle stiffness caused by multiple sclerosis. If patients aren't already in touch with a specialist doctor they can be referred to one by their GP if the doctor deems this appropriate. Treatments prescribed must have been produced for medical use and be regulated — in practice, this will likely be pills, capsules and oils, and not smokable cannabis.
Treatments contain varying quantities and ratios of THC, the psychosomatic compound that makes users feel ‘high', and CBD, a compound scientists the world over are investigating for its potential medical benefits.
Previously, almost all cannabis-based medicinal products were classed as Schedule One drugs, and judged to have no therapeutic value. Sativex, a treatment containing THC and CBD, was one of very few already approved — albeit only via the granting of a special license by the Home Office. Now treatments meeting "appropriate standards" have been reclassified Schedule Two.
An NHS spokesperson told the BBC the change "does not detract from the wider physical and mental health risks and concerns potentially arising from regular recreational cannabis use", and government ministers have been quick to dismiss suggestions it's not a step towards cannabis legalization. In October, Canada became the second country in the world after Uruguay to legalize possession and use of recreational cannabis.
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